REM – Orange Crush

This song is for Song Lyric Sunday for Jim Adams’s blog. This week’s prompt is  Apple/Banana/Cherry/Olive/Orange/Strawberry… I hope all of you have a wonderful Sunday!

I really liked REM when this came out but with this album I became a huge fan. The song was off of their album Green. Orange Crush peaked at #1 in the Billboard Alternative Charts and Mainstream Rock Hits, #28 in the UK, and #5 in New Zealand in 1989. (sorry I could not find Canada)

Orange Crush was my favorite soda growing up but this one is not about that. They got this name from Agent Orange…an awful chemical used in the Vietnam war.

Agent Orange was used to devastating effect during the Vietnam war. A toxic mix of herbicides and defoliants, nearly 20 million gallons of the it was sprayed over forested areas by the US military over a nine-year period up to 1971.

The idea was to root out guerrillas from rural communities and force people into American-controlled urban cities. It’s estimated that 400,000 were killed or maimed and it caused 500,000 children to be born with severe defects. Veterans on both sides of the conflict, meanwhile, have shown increased rates of cancer and nerve disorders. Returning US soldiers were also subject to accelerated instances of their wives having miscarriages or infants born with abnormalities.

The song was credited to all members of REM as were their other songs. The drill sergeant heard in the background during the middle is an imitation by Stipe.

Michael Stipe: “The song is a composite and fictional narrative in the first person, drawn from different stories I heard growing up around Army bases. This song is about the Vietnam War and the impact on soldiers returning to a country that wrongly blamed them for the war.”

Guitar Player Peter Buck: “I must have played this song onstage over three hundred times, and I still don’t know what the f*** it’s about. The funny thing is, every time I play it, it means something different to me, and I find myself moved emotionally. [Playwright/composer] Noel Coward made some remark about the potency of cheap music, and while I wouldn’t describe the song as cheap in any way, sometimes great songwriting isn’t the point. A couple of chords, a good melody and some words can mean more than a seven-hundred-page novel, mind you. Not a good seven-hundred-page novel mind you, but more say, a long Jacqueline Susann novel. Well alright, I really liked Valley of the Dolls.”

From Songfacts

Orange Crush was an orange flavored soft drink. In this case, though, it was meant to refer to Agent Orange, a chemical used by the US to defoliate the Vietnamese jungle during the Vietnam War. US military personnel exposed to it developed cancer years later and some of their children had birth defects. The extreme lyrical dissonance in the song meant that most people completely misinterpreted the song, including Top Of The Pops host Simon Parkin, who remarked on camera after R.E.M. performed the song on the British TV show, “Mmm, great on a summer’s day. That’s Orange Crush.”

Stipe’s father served in Vietnam in the helicopter corps.

Stipe sometimes introduced this in concert by singing the US Army jingle, “Be all that you can be, in the Army.”

This was not the first R.E.M. song to deal with the Vietnam War. That distinction goes to “Body Count,” an early unreleased song that they played live many times.

This was used in the 2007 drama Towelhead, starring Maria Bello, Chris Messina and Summer Bishil.

The song’s meaning keeps changing for Peter Buck. He wrote in the In Time liner notes:

Orange Crush

(Follow me, don’t follow me)
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
(Collar me, don’t collar me)
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
(We are agents of the free)
I’ve had my fun and now it’s time
To serve your conscience overseas (over me, not over me)
Coming in fast, over me

(Follow me, don’t follow me)
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
(Collar me, don’t collar me)
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
(We are agents of the free)
I’ve had my fun and now it’s time
To serve your conscience overseas (over me, not over me)
Coming in fast, over me

(Follow me, don’t follow me)
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
(Collar me, don’t collar me)
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
(We are agents of the free)
I’ve had my fun and now it’s time
To serve your conscience overseas (over me, not over me)
Coming in fast, over me

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

29 thoughts on “REM – Orange Crush”

  1. Great track. Love Bill’s artillery like snapping of the snare drum on this. I’m amazed that some people thought they were singing about Orange Crush the drink? lol I don’t think REM would do any advertising for a soda pop company lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought the same dude…but I do love some Orange Crush… I didn’t know this either…until I wrote it last night.

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  2. I really liked Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, but most people missed that film. Nice choice Max and I didn’t know a thing about this song, till I read your post. When Agent Orange was made illegal, they stored all of the unused containers in New Jersey and i had a job working right on the same street where it was kept.

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  3. It’s a great one, and also one of the ones they did a lot (like Buck said) and well in concert. I knew from early on the Vietnam reference and story behind it from interviews I saw with them, but I guess it could be a point for debate: are Stipe’s lyrics great or a dud for being so opaque. On the one hand, he doesn’t hit us over the head with the idea “Vietnam was unjustified and we dumped a lot of crap on the land that harmed everyone on both sides” so it’s not sanctimonious. On the other, he was trying to make a political statement, and obviously, most missed it entirely. Good tune either way!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you preach too much no one will listen…so I think it was a good amount but yea…he probably could have had a clearer thought in the lyrics…but it works as a song.

      I didn’t know all of this about it until last night when I wrote it. I’ve always liked the song so I when I saw Jim’s prompt…that was all I needed.

      Like

    1. It is a good song…

      When I saw orange I thought of this one…but the first song that popped into my head when I saw the prompt was Strawberry Fields by the Beatles but I already have posted that one.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As many times I’ve listened to this album it never hit me Orange Crush was about Agent Orange 😦 I wonder if some of the deformities involved the spine? Men and their wars, don’t get me started.

    Liked by 1 person

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